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Whaleback on the Block

Bank Sole Bidder For Ski Area

  • Auctioneer Tom Hirchak looks for bids at the reserve price of $848,000 while selling Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on August 1, 2013. While a few dozen people showed up for the auction, no one bid on the property except the current owner, Randolph National Bank, which will negotiate privately with prospective buyers in the weeks to come. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap)

    Auctioneer Tom Hirchak looks for bids at the reserve price of $848,000 while selling Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on August 1, 2013. While a few dozen people showed up for the auction, no one bid on the property except the current owner, Randolph National Bank, which will negotiate privately with prospective buyers in the weeks to come. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Terry Owen, left, and Tom Hirchak, of Thomas Hirchak Company Auctioneering, point to Randolph National Bank Senior Vice President Joe Boyd as he is declared the winner of the auction of the Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on August 1, 2013. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap)

    Terry Owen, left, and Tom Hirchak, of Thomas Hirchak Company Auctioneering, point to Randolph National Bank Senior Vice President Joe Boyd as he is declared the winner of the auction of the Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on August 1, 2013. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Auctioneer Tom Hirchak looks for bids at the reserve price of $848,000 while selling Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on August 1, 2013. While a few dozen people showed up for the auction, no one bid on the property except the current owner, Randolph National Bank, which will negotiate privately with prospective buyers in the weeks to come. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap)
  • Terry Owen, left, and Tom Hirchak, of Thomas Hirchak Company Auctioneering, point to Randolph National Bank Senior Vice President Joe Boyd as he is declared the winner of the auction of the Whaleback Ski Area in Enfield, N.H., on August 1, 2013. (Valley News — Sarah Priestap)

Enfield — A foreclosure auction on the assets of the Whaleback Mountain ski recreation area attracted minimal interest from buyers yesterday, leading to mortgage holder Randolph National Bank becoming the sole bidder of the 154-acre property for the reserve price of $848,000.

Whaleback Mountain, weighed down by more than $1 million in debt, was closed by its owners in March after eight seasons of operation after failing to attract new investors and the lender refusing to advance additional funds, its owners said at the time.

The purchase now paves the way for Randolph National Bank to find prospective buyers, said Joe Boyd, a senior vice president at the bank. He said he expects to hear from interested parties soon.

“It went pretty much as we expected, but a lot of people want to see this stay as a ski area,” Boyd said that is also the bank’s preference. “Several people have expressed interest, so I assume I’ll be getting some phone calls.”

Among those who have expressed an interest in keeping Whaleback going is a group headed by Hanover resident John Schiffman, an accountant and chairman of the Upper Valley Snow Sports Foundation, a nonprofit formed earlier this year to raise money to run the ski recreation area. The foundation’s advisory panel includes Hanover Town Manager Julia Griffin and former Olympic skiers Jeff Hastings, Tim Caldwell and Tiger Shaw.

Schiffman, 73, said he believes the foundation can ensure Whaleback remains an option for affordable skiing in the area.

“I’m optimistic the community will be able to have Whaleback operating as a ski area this winter,” he said. “There may be one or two other parties interested in doing the same thing for less than the reserve price.”

Randolph National Bank had arranged a mortgage on 144 of Whaleback’s acres for previous owners Evan Dybvig, Dylan Goodspeed and Frank Sparrow. Tim and Sally Herbert, who formerly owned the ski area, had held on to the remaining 10 acres. They arranged a mortage on it for Dybvig’s group, but agreed to the foreclosure auction of the two parcels as one.

As yesterday’s 11 a.m. auction time approached, about 20 people stood in clusters or sat at picnic tables on Whaleback’s weathered, lower deck. One was dressed in camouflage shorts, while others sported T-shirts and baseball caps, were clearly spectators. Others, wearing business casual attire, serious expressions and holding leather-bound notepads, looked like they might join in the bidding.

Only they didn’t — and neither did anyone else except Randolph National Bank.

Indeed, the auction got off to an inauscpicious start when auctioneer Tom Hirchak was greeted by stone silence when he opened the proceedings with an asking price of $2 million. He tried to make the most of it.

“Are you smiling at me, sir?” Hirchak joked, gesturing at an expressionless man sitting still as a statue in front of him. “No? Well, then I’ll take $1 million for it. How about $900,000?”

Also scanning the crowd for any hint of commital motion was Hirchak’s colleague, Terry Owen.

“There are mountains of opportunity here, folks,” she chirped. “Look at all these people. You could put in $25,000 per person and get free skiing with it.”

Still no takers.

Only when Hirchak got down to the reserve price — and repeated it several times — did Boyd raise his auction card. The proceedings ended seconds later and the gathering began to disperse.

Whaleback is spread over two parcels with a combined assessed value of nearly $950,000. It was founded as Snowcrest in 1955 before being sold in 1968, when it took on its current name. Another ownership group took over in 1984 and installed snowmaking equipment and lights, expanding the facility’s season from about 30 days to roughly 100.

The ski area was closed between 1990 and 1992 and again between 2001 and 2005 before a group headed by Dybvig, a two-time Olympic skier and Tunbridge native, reopened it.

But Dybvig and his partners announced another Whaleback closure in March in advance of Randolph National Bank foreclosing on the property. One of the former co-owners, Rutland, Vt., resident Goodspeed, has been maintaining Whaleback’s grounds during the spring and summer and attended the auction.

“We had an open house about three weeks ago and only a couple people came, so we thought this was what was going to happen,” Goodspeed said. “Schiffman’s group has all our old (financial) numbers and knowledge, so they seem the best bet to keep it running as a ski resort.

“We put our heart and soul into this place for eight years. It’s never fun to fail, but we tried our hardest and I have no regrets. We met a lot of amazing people and learned a lot of lessons.”

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.